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156                                                                                              B- POLEVOI
It was not difficult for him to force himself to eat,
sleep and take his medicine. Gymnastics were a different
matter. The ordinary exercises which he had regularly
taken in the past were unsuitable for a footless, bed-
ridden man. He therefore invented a new set of exer-
cises: for hours on end he bent his body forward, backward
and sideways, from right to left and back again, with
his hands on his hips, and he turned his head this way
and that with such vigour and zeal that his spine
creaked. His wardmates good-naturedly chaffed him over
these exercises, and Kukushkin ironically congratulated
him and called him the Znamensky brothers,
Ladoumegue, or by the names of other famous sprinters.
Kukushkin detested these gymnastics and regarded them
as just another hospital fad. As soon as Alexei began his
exercises, he would hasten to the corridor, grumbling and
grousing.
When the bandages were removed from his legs and
he was able to move more freely in his bed, Alexei added
another exercise. He would insert the stumps of his legs
between the rails at the foot of the bedstead, put his
hands on his hips and slowly bend his body forward as
far as it would go and then bend backward. Every day
he reduced the speed of the bends and increased the
number of "bows". Then he devised a series of exercises
for his legs. He would lie on his back and bend each
leg in turn, drawing the knee towards his chest, and then
throw the leg out again. When he performed this
exercise the first time, he realised what enormous, and
perhaps insuperable, difficulties awaited him. Stretching
his legs, of which the feet had been amputated to the
shins, caused him acute pain. The motions were hesitant
and irregular. They were as difficult to calculate as to
pilot an aircraft with a damaged wing or tail. Mentally
comparing himself to an aircraft, Alexei realised that
the ideally calculated structure of the human body was,
in his case, disturbed and that although his body was
still strong and sound, it would never again acquire the
harmony of action of its different parts that it had been
trained to since childhood.
The leg  exercises   caused   Meresyev   acute  pain, but
every day he did them a minute longer than he had the